Heart Functions & TCM Guide
A brief introduction before we check out the Heart and its functions.
The Internal Organs doctrine of TCM is called the “Zang Fu.”
Its importance lies in the fact that it is multifaceted in its application of the mind-body aspects; and the interrelationships between the organs and all the major principles of TCM.
Introducing Zang Fu
There are twelve main organs, six yin (Zang) and six yang (Fu), and another six extraordinary (or permanent) yang organs.
Collectively, the six Zang organs (Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver, Kidney and Pericardium), mainly involved in collecting, storing and distributing energy, i.e. vital substances such as qi, blood, and body fluid.
The six Fu (Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Stomach, Gall Bladder, Bladder and the Triple Energizer) in general, is responsible for receiving, absorbing, digesting of food and nutrient substances.
In other words, they sort out the useful from the useless substances; and then excrete the wastes—without any storing.
NOTE: Capitalization is often used in TCM to differentiate between the Western anatomical names and the Chinese Medicine energetic interpretation of the Zang Fu.
The Pumping Organ
The Heart is the most important of all the Zang Fu, it is sometimes called the ‘master’ or the ‘emperor’ of the body.
The main Heart functions include:
• governing blood and blood vessels
• showing its health in the facial complexion
• controlling sweat
• housing the mind/spirit (Shen)
• opening onto the tongue
• pairing with the Small Intestine
The heart (together with the Liver, Spleen and Lung) controls the body’s blood circulation. The health of Vessels, also called the “house of blood,” therefore shows (and depends on) the health of Heart blood and chi.
When the Heart and Vessels are healthy, the facial complexion shows a rosy lustrous glow. If you see a pale or bright white face on the mirror, immediately make an appointment with your doctor.
Besides controlling blood, another Heart function is to control sweat, which is one of the body’s fluids. Spontaneous sweating is a sign that you are deficient in Heart chi.
Too much sweating can not only cause dehydration, but also a deficiency in blood; excess sweating is also a very common side effect of high blood pressure!
Resident of the Heart
The Heart houses the mind … literally. TCM sees the Heart as “the organ that is responsible for the mind’s activities.”
It supplies fire (element of the Heart) chi and can nourish the mind without limit!
When the Heart functions properly, and there is ample Heart blood and chi, “the mind is clear, thinking is nimble, and one is full of vim and vigor.”
Too much of a happy emotion, i.e. excitements from happiness, on the other hand, can also overstimulate the heart, hurt the mind.
And this doesn’t stop here …
Over-stimulation of the happy emotion is not true happiness. True happiness calms the Heart while the latter only weakens it.
Since the element of the Heart is fire, and it mutually promotes earth (Spleen and Stomach). But when the Heart is weakened, the abnormal pathological “destructive” phenomenon happens. See chart on the right.
Here the earth “destroys” the relatively weaker fire. Heart functions plumage, Heart chi starts to stagnate, and the Stomach and Spleen chi too will not be properly regulated, i.e. not being soothed and eased.
The result is worry or over-thinking, the emotion of the Spleen and Stomach.
Heart Centered Energy
Another mind-boggling heart function is as a magnetic field generator!
Lo and behold, our pumping organ is the most powerful generator of electromagnetic energy in the human body. Its strength is more than 5,000 times greater than the field generated by the brain!
Using sensitive equipments, this energy, which not only envelops every cell of the body but also extends out in all directions into the space around us, can be detected.
Interestingly, the cardiac field can not only be modulated by different emotional states, it can also influence the other person’s brain rhythms.
Therefore, is it too hard to understand why a compassionate heart can actually bring peace to the room? And why is it that when someone is calm, concentrated and unemotional, we say they are “centered?”
By the way, according to the Ayurvedic system, when the heart chakra is balanced and in harmony with the lower and upper chakras, we will feel at peace with ourselves and the world around us.
Being able to strike a balance within us, we prepare the stage which allows for unconditional love, allowing us to help others.
A coincidence? Let’s take this as another Heart function to feed your mind.
The Heart’s Partner
The paired organ of the Heart is the Small Intestine. Initially it may seem difficult to find a connection between these two organs …
But their relationship will become clear once the Heart fire starts to go out of control, that is, when the fire form the Heart is transmitted to the Small Intestine causing thirst, bitter taste, tongue ulcers, and blood in the urine!!
Also, try to see the connection based on the position of the organs. Let me explain.
Any blocked emotions from above will affect (or be sensed by) the organs below first. For example, the uncontrolled emotions of the Heart and Lungs, grief and over-excitement, will “vibrate” to their paired organs, the Small and Large intestines respectively, and cause imbalances to their functions.
Speaking of emotions, an uncontrolled anger caused by Liver chi stagnation (anger is the emotion of Liver, a wood element which mutually promotes fire) too can “over-promote” a weaker fire element of the Heart and Small Intestine.
Heart Function Boosts Intestinal Immunity
The Intestines, by the way, are “storage area” for both the good and badbacteria.
This secured area, which is highly guarded (70 to 80% of our immune cells are stationed here), makes sure the nasty ones remain intact and not escape to other parts of the body, unless there is a leak or a system malfunction.
Hence, the intestines are regarded as one of the first line of defense when dealing with health imbalances and degenerative diseases. In fact, they make up to about 40% of our body’s immune function.
Gut Feeling & Heart Function?
Here’s an interesting fact about “gut feeling,” the so-called intuition.
It’s like you just “know” it even though you do not know how you know it. (Here, the gut includes the stomach, and the small and large intestines.)
That certain strong feeling that “tells” you not to board the plane; or quit your job and move to Tibet!
Sometimes the outcome may not be what you had expected earlier, but eventually you’ll realize it’s the right move after all. Call it your “sixth sense” if you wish.
Michael Gershon, author of The Second Brain and a professor at Columbia University has this to say, “The gut has millions of nerve cells and, through them, a “mind of its own. Gut feelings do not originate there, but in signals from the brain.”
And the captain of the ship (the brain) … is the mind, in which is made up of consciousness, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and memories.
Let’s go deeper …
You now know that one of the Heart’s functions is to house the mind. And the Heart’s paired organ, the Small Intestine, is connected to the Stomach from above, and Large Intestine below.
Any sensory stimuli will evoke the mind and instantaneously the brain will “give” a certain type of “feelings” of which we will either react or response; and the “butterflies in your stomach” or your “gut feeling” is one of them.
So when there is mindfulness, and when the Heart is open, the Lung is clear, we’ll be able to sense this “feeling” more subtlety. No complicated analysis, reasoning or factoring required.
Two other types of feelings on the other end of this tunnel are overindulgence and indecisiveness.
The former is due to over-excitement (too much of the Heart emotion) and the latter is heavy with thoughts and worries (emotion of the Lung). The results? A heavy feeling, and hours of wasted time to decide between two kinds of cereal!
I hope you’re starting to see the connections here. Right, before we close the topic, here’s a short note about the Tongue.
Window on the Heart
The tongue is considered to be the sprout of the Heart. It is related specifically to the tip of the tongue, but it also influences the color, form and appearance of it.
So if you want to find out if your Heart functions normally or otherwise, your tongue may have some startling revelations in hand.
Supplements for the Heart
To circulate blood normally through the whole body, strong heart muscles are not the only requirement. Sufficient Heart blood, Heart chi and of course the blood vessels should be open.
Don’t also forget that the fire Heart mutually promotes the earth Spleen, the organ that ensures the blood stays within the vessels!